Imagine you tell someone a secret, only to be betrayed. Putting emotion aside for a moment, what happens next?
Most likely, you’ll subsequently either communicate uselessly bland info, blatantly misleading info, or no info at all to them in the future. At a personal level, that’s a bummer for both people. At a corporate level, the damage ripples throughout society.
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The leaking of corporate memos might seem either innocuous, societally useful, or both. In reality, it is typically neither.
- It irreparably damages trust and valuable communications within institutions
Recently, an apparently frank internal report written at the New York Times was leaked. On principle, I refuse to read or link to it, but from the summaries I saw, it apparently focused on the newspaper’s struggles with digital distribution and declining readership numbers. Undoubtedly in the future, that organization will blandify future memos and/or starkly curtail their internal distribution… bad for NY Times employees, but also unfortunate for those of us that are readers of that newspaper who depend upon its employment of skilled and motivated reporters.
- It hurts stockholders and is unhelpful to society at large
Sure, it’s often fun — sometimes schaudenfreudically so — to learn of company’s struggles and to get insider info on its strategies, tactics, and so on. One might even argue that this gives actionable information to stockholders of public companies, but IMHO any such advantage is offset by the likely loss of employee morale and productivity and/or damages to compromised competitive intelligence. Of course, there should be moral exceptions for the leaking of information that is associated with real and immediate threats to safety and security, but beyond that… do we really benefit as a society knowing about changes in a corporate policy, partner realignments, and so on?
In a way, the leaking of corporate memos is a bit like the illicit drug world. It takes someone to initiate (create the drug for resale, leak the memo), people to distribute (drug runners, bloggers, journalists), and an audience to eagerly consume and share that which provides short-term enjoyment but likely long-term harm.
Given this, my advice is likely to be both unsurprising and yet controversial. Quit enabling this damaging behavior. Stop reading these leaked memos, and stop frequenting sites that regularly encourage and feature such leaks.
With that said, I’m not optimistic. In a firm of, say, 20,000 employees… it takes just one person to be a jerk (and violate their contract). And we humans are notorious rubberneckers. But hey, I can dream, right?